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A “New Deal” For Indian Country?

by Terry Anderson

Deb Haaland, a Native American, is now the secretary of the Department of the Interior. The department houses the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the agency for relations with Indian tribes. Chief Justice John Marshall referred to these groups in 1832 as “domestic dependent nations.” In that same decision, Marshall declared the relationship of Indians to the federal government “like that of a ward to his guardian,” making the secretary the guardian. The ward-guardian relationship became further entrenched in federal law when the Dawes Act of 1887 and the Burke Act of 1906 explicitly said Indian land was to be held in trust by the Department of the Interior and could not be released from trusteeship until the secretary of the interior—now Haaland—deems Indians to be “competent and capable.”

Painting herself the same dark shade of green as her boss, President Biden, has won Secretary Haaland support from environmentalists, but this is not the leadership Native Americans need from her. As interior secretary, Haaland is in a position to oppose the explicit racism in federal Indian policy, for nothing is more racist than calling people wards and giving the government the authority to decide whether they are competent and capable. Will Haaland’s policies acknowledge that Indians are “competent and capable” or will they continue holding them in colonial bondage?

Secretary Haaland can make changes in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) because she is the trustee of fifty-six million acres of Indian Country. (Throughout Indian Country the acronym BIA is taken to mean “bossing Indians around” by wrapping them in “white tape.”)

Letting the Tribes Prosper

Start with Haaland’s position on oil and gas development. She has consistently said she would “stop all oil and gas leasing on federal lands” and supports “a ban on fracking,” while calling for “no new pipelines.” Holding to these positions and moving the Biden administration’s Green New Deal forward, however, would have major effects on reservations, especially those with significant energy potential. If Native Americans are competent and capable, and they are, theirs is the right to make decisions about oil and gas development on their lands …

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A “New Deal” For Indian Country?

Vernon Smith Prize – Virtual Awards Ceremony

vernon smith prize 2020 winners online awards ceremony
13th International Vernon Smith Prize  |  Winners received their Prizes in an online awards ceremony. Top left to right: Carlos Gebauer (Moderator), Susanna Gopp (ECAEF Host), Dikshya Mahat (3rd Prize). Bottom left to right: Ethan Yang (1st Prize), Prinz Michael of Liechtenstein (ECAEF President), Jorge Jraissati (3rd Prize). The second co-prize winner Krzysztof Lesniewski could not join the conference call due to illness. (Sceenshot: ZVG)

Back in January, we announced the winners of the 13th International Vernon Smith Prize, leaving us organizers with a very uncommon problem: How to run the Awards Ceremony with strict Covid-19 restrictions in place?  The winners were not able to follow the usual invitation. They could not attend a physical event in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Instead, the award ceremony was held virtually through a Zoom Webinar on 8 February 2021. Because now, more than ever, it is important that we continue to recognise the achievements around us. It is a powerful way for us to continue forward, even when it feels like we are at a standstill.

Via Zoom Webinar, the winners did successfully defend the essays after an international jury did judge their works. Prince Michael of Liechtenstein honored the winners.

1st Prize:
Ethan Yang (USA)


2nd Prize:
Christoph Lesniewski (Poland)


3rd Prize:
Dikshya Mahat (Nepal) and Jorge Jraissati (USA)
ex aequo


The prizes have been awarded on the basis of originality, grasp of subject, and the logical consistence of the argument.

Topic was:
‘Is the Public Interest really in the public’s interest?’

About 85 years ago, F. A. von Hayek already has warned us that even “if people agree about the desirability of planning in general, their agreements about the ends which planning is to serve will in the first instance necessarily be confined to some general formula like ‘social welfare’, the ‘general interest’, the ‘common good’, ‘greater equality’ or ‘justice’ etc. ”

Agreement on such a general formula is however, not sufficient to determine a concrete plan, even if we take all the technical means as given”. Although, these ambiguous, emotionally charged and politically domineering slogans still arouse the fantasy of intellectuals and politicians alike, a conceptual definition of these ‘multi-purpose’ terms appears to be of no concern for them. It is a regrettable fact that especially economics, far more than the other social sciences, is obsessed with the reiteration of popular, yet meaningless buzz words.

The following prize money was given to winners:

1st Prize: €4,000  |  2nd Prize: €3,000  |  3rd Prize: €2,000


The International Vernon Smith Prize for the advancement of Austrian Economics is an annual essay competition sponsored and organized by ECAEF – European Center of Austrian Economics Foundation, Vaduz (Principality of Liechtenstein).

CEPROM/ECAEF Conference postponed

Due to the current development of the Covid-19 pandemic regretfully we are forced to postpone our V. CEPROM/ECAEF Conference (scheduled March 30, 2021) to December, 2021. We apologize for the inconvenience and will keep you posted.

Principality of Monaco:

V. International
CEPROM/ECAEF Conference

(In honor of Jacques Rueff, 1896-1978)

Topic:

“Is the Public Interest
really in the public’s interest?”

– with Lessons from the Past Pandemic –

The conference is developed and organized by ECAEF (European Center of Austrian Economics Foundation, Liechtenstein). It is hosted by CEPROM (Center of Economic Research for Monaco). By invitation only. Stay tuned for updates regarding the Conference Program.

Designed and Arranged by ECAEF – European Center of Austrian Economics Foundation (LI)

Locally hosted and organized by CEPROM- Center of Economic Research for Monaco (MC)

By invitation only

Academic Director: Kurt R. Leube (ECAEF; krleube@gmail.com)
Administrative Director: Emmanuel Falco (CEPROM; cecile@mlp.mc)
Media Contacts: nsaussier@palais.mc
Conference Date: December 2021 (exact Date to be announced)
Location: Musee Oceanographique de Monaco, Principality of Monaco
Conference Languages: English/French; simultaneous translation

Conference Program

09:00-9:30 Registration
09:30-9:45 Welcome: H.S.H. Prince Albert II and H.S.H. Prince Michael of Liechtenstein

9:45-12:00
Session I: The Public Interest: On its Substance as a Governmental Concept
09:45-10:00 Chair: Peter A. Fischer (CH)
10:00-10:30 Limits and Necessities of Regulation: Public Interest Lessons from the Past Pandemic – Henry I. Miller (USA)
10:30-10:45 Discussion
10:45-11:15 Coffee break for all participants
11:15-11:45 A false Dichotomy? The Public Interest and Inequality – Axel Kaiser (CL)
11:45-12:00 Discussion

12:00-13:45 Break

13:45-15:30
Session II: The Public Interest: On its Meaning as an Economic Policy Function
13:45-14:00 Chair: Carlos A. Gebauer (D)
14:00-14:30 Bliss Point Economics: On the Root of Public Interest Evil – Terry L. Anderson (USA)
14:30-14:45 Discussion
14:45-15:15 In the Name of the Public Interest? Government Debts and Reckless Monetary Policies – Lars P. Feld (D)
15:15-15:30 Discussion
15:30-16:00 Coffee break for all participants

16:00-18:00
Session III: The Public Interest: As a Guide to and a Fact-Check on Public Policy Measures
16:00-16:15 Chair: Peter A. Fischer (CH)
16:15-16:45 Conjectures, Refutations or Fakes? Only an Unbiased Science is in the Public’s Interest – Josef H. Reichholf (D)
16:45-17:00 Discussion
17:00-17:30 On the Zeitgeist and the Public Interest – Johan Norberg (S)
17:30-17:45 Discussion
17:45-18:00 Closing Remarks: Kurt R. Leube (A/USA)
18:00 End of Conference

Please note: Some paper titles might be edited or changed.

Vernon Smith Prize 2020 – winners announcement

The winners of the 13th International Vernon Smith Prize are:

1st Prize:
Ethan Yang (USA)


2nd Prize:
Christoph Lesniewski (Poland)


3rd Prize:
Dikshya Mahat (Nepal) and Jorge Jraissati (USA)
ex aequo


The prizes have been awarded on the basis of originality, grasp of subject, and the logical consistence of the argument. An international jury did judge the essays, and the winners were initially invited to present their papers at a special event in Vaduz, the Principality of Liechtenstein. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, this event will have to be held virtually through Online Conference Call on 8 Feb 2021.

The 2020 topic was:
‘Is the Public Interest really in the public’s interest?’

About 85 years ago, F. A. von Hayek already has warned us that even “if people agree about the desirability of planning in general, their agreements about the ends which planning is to serve will in the first instance necessarily be confined to some general formula like ‘social welfare’, the ‘general interest’, the ‘common good’, ‘greater equality’ or ‘justice’ etc. ”

Agreement on such a general formula is however, not sufficient to determine a concrete plan, even if we take all the technical means as given”. Although, these ambiguous, emotionally charged and politically domineering slogans still arouse the fantasy of intellectuals and politicians alike, a conceptual definition of these ‘multi-purpose’ terms appears to be of no concern for them. It is a regrettable fact that especially economics, far more than the other social sciences, is obsessed with the reiteration of popular, yet meaningless buzz words.

The following prize money will be given to winners:

1st Prize: €4,000  |  2nd Prize: €3,000  |  3rd Prize: €2,000


The International Vernon Smith Prize for the advancement of Austrian Economics is an annual essay competition sponsored and organized by ECAEF – European Center of Austrian Economics Foundation, Vaduz (Principality of Liechtenstein).

At the Turn of the Year: A few Comments on the Public Interest and its Meaning

Essay by Kurt R. Leube

“People who intend only to seek their own benefit are led by an invisible hand to serve a public interest which was no part of their intention. I say that there is a reverse invisible hand: People who intend to serve only the public interest are led by an invisible hand to serve private interests, which was no part of their intention”. Milton Friedman (1912-2006)


I

To be sure, government programs intended to responding to and preventing the spread of infectious diseases or protecting its citizens from physical threats posed by others can be summarized as being conclusively in the Public Interest. These actions are considered to be among the core duties of any modern democratic state.  However, what is the essential meaning of the Public Interest?

From ‘shelter-in-place’ orders to indiscriminately enforced full or partial ‘lockdowns’, from a near collapse of critical world supply chains to trillions of dollars in government aid, the pandemic has rekindled the long-running passionate debate about the Public Interest. Countless important issues, including the market pricing of new vital vaccines or therapies, unconstitutional infringements on civil rights, contact tracing, private property on research facilities, on essential data or clinical trials, or even the enacting of the DPA (Defense Production Act) have come into focus. They are revealing the extent to which state control in the Public Interest is exerted over matters that will determine the ultimate human cost of the pandemic. Science, politics and policymaking have been characterized by biased and conflicting interpretations of the Public Interest concept.

Such conflicts matter, not only because each party pursues its own prejudiced view of the Public Interest that may sharply differ from the interpretations of others. It also weakens democracy, as people who cannot speak freely will not be able to think clearly, and no democratic society can flourish long when opponents are treated almost as heretics. However, it seems that the defenders of tolerance and freedom of speech regretfully have capitulated to people who claim free speech for themselves but not for others.

Thus, in both authoritarian and democratic regimes the response of governments to the outbreak of the virus in the name of the Public Interest has led to conditions and proposals that makes one think of George Orwell’s distressing Nineteen Eighty Four, a novel which grows more haunting as its futuristic agony becomes the new reality. It seems as if Covid-19 not only has come to result in government control of and intrusion into individual lives. Also for good or for evil, a sort of ‘pandemic police state’ apparently relies on large-scale surveillance, denunciation and has covertly amassed executive powers and administrative functions to an extent unthinkable in pre-pandemic times. As political power more often than not multiplies at the expense of the social power enjoyed by individuals, the effects of these policies and programs most likely will lead to a permanent increase in scale and scope of state control.


II

Centuries of scholarship in political philosophy have examined the Public Interest alongside other ageless political mantras. Common among most political philosophers was the acceptance of the pointless idea that governments ought to serve the people, and the people ought to be the beneficiaries of their governing.

However, shaped and conditioned by the ever-changing Zeitgeist, numerous conflicting and highly competitive interpretations and conceptions of this politically attractive slogan evolved over time. They range from utter platitudes to meaningless clichés to naive philosophical arguments. The political ideal to hold the mystical model of the common good or the Public Interest in higher esteem than any individual action, seems as old as statehood and has been discussed whenever and wherever regulatory adjustments for the general welfare have taken place. By and large, the literature is confusing and contradicting. However, we can trace this ideal as far back as Plato’s and the Platonist school’s suggestion, that only undisputable government officials have the wisdom to determine the common good. We also find the phrase in the descriptions of the various medieval totalitarian systems and in the countless socio-economic regulations during the Mercantilist era to promote national power (1). Likewise Jeremy Bentham’s legendary principle of the ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’ comes to mind.

Arguably however, Auguste Comte (1798-1857) (2), by no means the inventor of the term, seems to have vastly influenced the underlying philosophy of the current reasoning. In his positivistic philosophy he insisted that social wholes are better known than the elements of which they consist and social theory therefore, ought to start from our knowledge of the directly examined entities. This idea consistently led Comte to suggest that only society as a whole is authentic and the many individuals who are forming the society are but an abstraction. In other words, individual actions must be suppressed if they do not serve the presumed yet mysteriously shrouded Public Interest. In such a model, where the values of the whole society would be equal to those of any particular individual, the Public Interest would have a substantive content, and by definition both the function and the motive of all government officials would be to formulate all their decisions in the Public Interest (3). Yet, contrary to the view that political actors are supposed to work together to altruistically advance some notion of the Public Interest, the reality proves to a certain extent different.

Among the most influential applications of this Public Interest ideal in our times are probably the works especially by Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) and A.C. Pigou (1877-1959) (4). Broadly summarized, their models assume that the accurate role of any democratically elected government is to operate for the greatest benefit of society as a whole. Accordingly, each citizen implicitly takes it for granted that a society must be viewed as a unit and thus has a single set of values that can be summarized into an outline for implementing a detailed policy. This single set of values supposedly makes up the Public Interest and hypothetically represents the will of the people. Over time this permeating catchphrase acquired an almost numinous meaning that entails a combination of inspiring expectations and appealing conjectures and keeps on arousing the fantasy of social scientists, intellectuals and politicians.

Although, a conceptual definition of the Public Interest ought to play the all-decisive role in determining any government program regarding the Public Interest, at least an operational classification of this ‘multi-purpose’ term apparently was and still is of no concern for those who use it constantly. Due to the lack of a clear definition, the ends which the Public Interest is to serve must in the first instance necessarily be confined to some meaningless general formula, which will be insufficient to determine any concrete plan, even if we take all the technical means as given. In other words, there is no rule book for working in the Public Interest and, because it is loose, ambiguous and politically quite easy to hide behind this enticing phrase, it became an integral part of the political dialogue, the body of law, of regulations and the governance of modern democracies. 


III

Regardless of their intent, most Public Interest regulations are meant to protect consumers from harm resulting from irresponsible or fraudulent behavior or preventing the spread of infectious diseases among countless other purposes. However, except in emergencies, most of these regulations are usually not designed and implemented in a socio-political vacuum. Rather, these rulings emerge in a communal environment populated by public as well as private self-interested political actors who possess the authority to coerce private citizens to do as they say. This new source of power has significant value to those who can influence and control it. In other words, the same lobby groups who might be the target of regulations will often have the strongest interest in attempting to manipulate rulings or guidelines for their own benefits. However, when coalitions of private interests are able to influence and control the content of regulations, they will produce benefits for them instead of serving the Public Interest. This makes any society, but in particular its citizens or consumers at large regularly worse off and results in a decrease of competition and an increase in costs.

Therefore, we ought to reconsider the decisive difference between an organization and a democratic society. The latter is ‘the result of human actions, not of human design’ (F.A. von Hayek) and is made up of independent people who are neither aware of a shared common purpose, nor do they knowingly serve it.

While a society of independent people is distinguished by spontaneous order and by scale-free networks, organizations on the other hand are hierarchical networks and are purposefully created, managed and monitored by human beings. To reiterate, social orders or associations develop through spontaneous growth as well as through some small measures of deliberate construction.

Spontaneous growth occurs when individuals and groups with limited knowledge interact with other individuals and groups, giving rise to unplanned patterns of behavior and institutional forms. In view of that, today’s democratic societies can only be defined as complex, yet unplanned systems of reconciled, but not shared values and actions.
Only during the slow but continual advancement of the human mind, individuals began to differ sufficiently to develop previously unarticulated social rules and behavior to the extent that deviate behavior could be corrected. Thus, in order to function properly every society (democratic or not) requires a minimal consensus entailing some basic rules, which allow its members to survive, communicate and predict the reactions of others to unknown social situations (5).

These ‘rules of just conduct’ (F.A. von Hayek) are in large parts end-independent rules and are rarely written down or identified as a minimal consensus, nor are they the outcome of an election or have ever intentionally been drafted. They are the ‘result of human action, not of design’ and suggest not only an implicit agreement on these basic rules. These creeds also hint at the tacit approval of guidelines regarding individual behavior and decision-making. However, the fact that not all fellows obey them does not invalidate their central importance and structural necessity.

Thus, a democratic society can neither be explained as a whole with a single purpose, nor can it be viewed as an organization in which people are not allowed to use their own unique knowledge of time and place for their own purposes. To recap, a society of free and independent people can only be defined as a complex, yet unplanned system of reconciled, but not shared values and has no mutual purpose or core curriculum. In other words, a society which does not approve of individual freedom and choices and which takes a common interest for granted, resembles an authoritarian organization, where every member follows orders and ought to be concerned with the completion of an assumed collective goal. Hence, it seems inconceivable that in a democratic society any policy that violates the minimal consensus with regard to the society’s own unwritten ‘rules of just conduct’ could be described as serving the Public Interest.


IV

It is neither possible to make an educated guess of what such a society with all its future constituents will, would, or even might say if and when it ever had a chance to vote. As we will never know what we ourselves will be thinking any number of years from now, much less what infants now in the cradle will be thinking when they reach the ability to vote, there is no point in playing with any notion of an imaginary plebiscite to discover the meaning of the Public Interest. In general terms, after all every individual neither intends to promote the Public Interest, nor has the knowledge of how much she or he is promoting it.

However, with some caveats and caution we may at least attempt to summarize the Public Interest not only as a situation in which men would choose if they saw clearly, thought rationally and acted disinterestedly or benevolently (6). It could also be described as a set of values oriented toward the assumed needs, desires, or interests of large numbers of people. In today’s democratic societies we may perhaps at least in essence distinguish three main functions of the concept.

First of all, in politics the term Public Interest can predominately be used as a method with which individual citizens not only evaluate whatever actions the government considers. Citizens can also discuss their judgments and opinions with their fellows and potential beneficiaries of particular government actions.

Secondly, as the Public Interest implies that there exists one common good known and appreciated by all members of society, the political appeal for the Public Interest and peer pressure may well be used as a tool to motivate all those who are hard-pressed by public bullying to act against their own will or interest.

And, as a third function, perhaps we will be able to perceive the concept of the Public Interest as being employed as a guide to and a test of the actions, failures or decisions of politicians and other public servants. It is especially this last function that proves extremely tempting and convenient for political representatives: in hindsight they can easily not only hide behind the phrase. With no troubles at all they can also be lured into actions or rulings that might be in favor of their own reelection bid.


(1)  See Joseph A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, New York 1954, Part II, especially chapter 7.

(2)  Among several other sources, see especially Harriet Martineau, The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, 2 vols, London 1853; 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press 2009. Martineau, a former admirer of David Ricardo’s work became Comte’s most faithful disciple in England. It was largely through her work that Comte’s ideas made their entry especially into imperial Prussia and were enthusiastically embraced by the ‘Socialists of the Chair’ and Gustav v. Schmoller’s so-called ‘Younger German Historical School’.

(3)  The illuminating analysis by James M. Buchanan (with H.G. Brennan) became an instant classic: ‘Monopoly in Money and Inflation’, Hobart Paper 88, London (IEA), 1981. Pgs. 7-8.

(4)  Compare Israel M. Kirzner “Welfare Economics: A Modern Austrian Perspective” in: Man, Economy, and Liberty. Essays in Honor of Murray N. Rothbard; W. Block, Ed., L. von Mises Institute, Auburn 1988.

(5)  We owe these seminal insights to Friedrich A. von Hayek’s works on the evolution of spontaneous orders, of the law, the distribution of knowledge and the formation of societies. See especially Hayek’s most influential essay ‘The Use of Knowledge in Society’, The American Economic Review, Sep. 1945, reprinted in The Essence of Hayek, K.R. Leube & Ch. Nishiyama, Eds., Stanford 1984. Of special interest is also his Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vol. I, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1973.

(6) Although, one might have some serious reservations and disagreements with Schubert’s arguments and use of terms, it seems instructive to read again Glendon A. Schubert’s The Public Interest: A Critique of the Theory of a Political Concept, The Free Press, Glencoe, IL, 1960.